A leaner, meaner GM
By Jack Roberts
A year ago, General Motors was looking down the barrel of a gun. The company, deemed “too big to fail” by media pundits, was bankrupt. Without a government bailout, it seemed this automotive powerhouse, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2008, might live only two years into its second century.
Today, the mood at GM is decidedly more upbeat. At a Fleet and Commercial Press Event in Detroit, Mark Reuss, GM North American President noted several recent changes, including first quarter profits of $31.5 billion and vehicle sales up 31 percent through April of this year compared to 2009 sales in the same time frame.
But Reuss cautioned that GM would not be sitting back. Instead, he said, the company would be celebrating “on the run” by working hard to “green up” its offering of fleet and commercial vehicles, including an increased emphasis on compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid propane gas (LPG) technologies as a way to drive new technology and powertrains to the marketplace. And although GM has yet to offer a fully-electric car or delivery truck the way Ford, Nissan and International have, Reuss touts its forthcoming Chevy Volt – a plug-in hybrid that uses a small gasoline engine to boost the main electric motor’s range – as a technology platform that could find its way into other applications.
Of more immediate concern is the company’s departure from the medium-duty commercial markets – most notably the production halt of the 4500 and 5500 TopKick and Kodiak truck lines. According to Reuss, the decision to cancel those models was a logical one because GM “didn’t do a good job managing that business.”
Looking ahead, Reuss declined to confirm or deny whether or not GM would re-enter the medium-duty commercial truck market. “Never say ‘never,’” he said. “But if GM ever does go back into that business, we would have to approach and manage it very differently than we did in the past.”
Still, many GM dealers – particularly those engaged in fleet and commercial sales, are vocal in calling for what they term a “Black Hole Truck,” a vehicle to fill the perceived void left in GM lineup by the departure of the Kodiak and Topkick lines. According to Bill Gibson, director of fleet and commercial sales for General Motors, Chevrolet and GMC will bridge some of the gap by offering heavier heavy-duty versions of their Silverado and Sierra pickup trucks. Specifically, Gibson notes the truck will have increased payload capacities (including 13 models capable of carrying more than 3,100 pounds) and more powerful, 397 horsepower engines. Add to that an all-new, fully boxed steel frame, heavier front axle, stiffer springs, new independent front suspension and Gibson says GM has a “heavy Class 3, or light Class 4” work truck that can handle a wide array of applications. This will include a new, four-wheel-drive HD pickup that can accommodate a snowplow, a stronger transmission with a hill-start assist feature and towing capacities increased to 21,700 pounds.
Competition in the North American light truck market is stiffer than ever, so GM still has a long way to go to return fully to its past glories. But its trucks are state of the art, and it appears the company’s engineers have been put on the fast-track in addressing fuel economy and productivity concerns. EW